Bruxism (Teeth Grinding or Clenching)
When you look in on your sleeping child, you want to hear the sounds of sweet dreams: easy breathing and perhaps an occasional sigh. But some parents hear the harsher sounds of gnashing and grinding teeth, called bruxism, which is common in kids.
Bruxism is the medical term for the grinding of teeth or the clenching of jaws. Bruxism often occurs during deep sleep or while under stress. Two to three out of every 10 kids will grind or clench, experts say, but most outgrow it.
Causes of Bruxism
Though studies have been done, no one knows why bruxism happens. But in some cases, kids may grind because the top and bottom teeth aren't aligned properly. Others do it as a response to pain, such as an earache or teething. Kids might grind their teeth as a way to ease the pain, just as they might rub a sore muscle. Many kids outgrow these fairly common causes for grinding.
Stress — usually nervous tension or anger — is another cause. For instance, a child might worry about a test at school or a change in routine (a new sibling or a new teacher). Even arguing with parents and siblings can cause enough stress to prompt teeth grinding or jaw clenching.
Some kids who are hyperactive also experience bruxism. And sometimes kids with other medical conditions (such as cerebral palsy) or on certain medications can develop bruxism.
Effects of Bruxism
Many cases of bruxism go undetected with no adverse effects, while others cause headaches or earaches. Usually, though, it's more bothersome to other family members because of the grinding sound.
In some circumstances, nighttime grinding and clenching can wear down tooth enamel, chip teeth, increase temperature sensitivity, and cause severe facial pain and jaw problems, such as temporomandibular joint disease (TMJ). Most kids who grind, however, do not have TMJ problems unless their grinding and clenching is chronic.
Lots of kids who grind their teeth aren't even aware of it, so it's often siblings or parents who identify the problem.
Some signs to watch for:
- grinding noises when your child is sleeping
- complaints of a sore jaw or face in the morning
- pain with chewing
If you think your child is grinding his or her teeth, visit the dentist, who will examine the teeth for chipped enamel and unusual wear and tear, and spray air and water on the teeth to check for unusual sensitivity.
If damage is detected, the dentist may ask your child a few questions, such as:
- How do you feel before bed?
- Are you worried about anything at home or school?
- Are you angry with someone?
- What do you do before bed?
The exam will help the dentist determine whether the grinding is caused by anatomical (misaligned teeth) or psychological (stress) factors and come up with an effective treatment plan.
Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor.
© 1995-2009 The Nemours Foundation. All rights reserved.
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